Beach parking issues continue in Fernandina Beach

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 28, 2021

Every City of Fernandina Beach Commissioner has a cause especially dear to his heart.  Sometimes it’s trees or affordable housing; other times it’s limiting growth of both the physical city and the City Budget.

Commissioner Bradley Bean

At the pre meeting workshop held on April 20, 2021, newly elected Commissioner Bradley Bean placed his stake in the sand for beach access.  Bean has steadfastly opposed any measure that would restrict or encumber access to City beaches throughout his brief tenure.  But at the April 20 Workshop, he took it a step further.

Voicing concerns that the gate which allows access to on-beach parking at the Seaside/Sadler Road access is not always opened at the stated opening time of 6 a.m., Bean proposed solutions, including removing the gate or replacing the current gate with an automatic gate.  He noted complaints about the gate removal option, and cited the $2,500 the City spends annually to have a body open and close the gate.

Also discussed at the workshop:  expanding beach parking (or not) and impact of Nassau County’s plan to charge non residents to park at Peters Point.

Complaints about pening delays for gate at Sadler Road/Seaside beach parking area

In calling for discussion about the operation of the parking gate at Sadler Road/Seaside, , Bean said, “I want a guarantee that our citizens who want to drive onto the beach to watch the sunrise can do so.  It’s important to me; it’s important to the rest of us.”

City Manager Dale Martin

In response to a question from Commissioner Chip Ross, City Manager Dale Martin responded that he had investigated Bean’s suggestion of an automatic gate and determined that there is no ready source of electricity.  A new line would need to be installed from the round-about at Sadler and South Fletcher to the gate area.  He added that the small air conditioner used on occasion at the guard post was powered by a generator or thanks to the cooperation of Sliders.  He said that the estimate for acquisition and installation of a sliding gate similar to the one at the City’s Maintenance Yard was $20,000, not including maintenance.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger stressed the need for a gate, especially during turtle nesting season.  He wondered if a photovoltaic power source could be considered.  “We need to make sure that the gate is opened at the prescribed time,” he agreed, and called for a back up system.

City Manager Martin replied that there is a back up, with both Police and Fire  having the combination to the existing gate.  “I believe that since the March instances that prompted Commissioner Bean’s concerns, there have been no issues,” Martin said.

Commissioner David Sturges expressed his support for both the gate and on-time public access.  “I really think this is a management issue,” he said.  He renewed his call for a public service line to the City, where residents can raise concerns over a variety of issues in hope of quick resolution.

Commissioner Chip Ross

Ross reminded other commissioners of the many discussions and compromises that led to the placement of the current gate, indicating that he would be adamantly opposed to its removal.  “The bigger issue looming before us,” Ross said, “is that the Nassau County Commissioners will be instituting paid beach parking for non-county residents at Peters Point.”  He said that based upon his weekend visits to beach parking areas, he estimates that 40-60 percent of the cars parked at Peters Point bear out of state license plates.  He suggested that with the County’s imposition of parking fees, those visitors will head to City beach parking lots.

Bean said, “I very much want to emphasize that I am not in favor of paid beach parking.  But I want to return to the gate [at Sadler Road beach access].”  Bean said that he believed that the back up plan was in place in March when the  problems occurred.  “It was an hour late, and those people had no way to access the beach and missed the sunrise.”  He expressed his desire to pursue a solar powered gate.  “There is going to be a cost, but I believe it’s worth it to provide access to the beach for all.”  He called for quotes on replacing the current gate with a solar powered one.

City Manager Martin said, “Just to clarify.  There is currently a sign at the gate providing a number to call if the gate is not open.”  He added that the way to get the gate opened was to call the number, not to post on Facebook.

Bean said he understood that, but preferred to have the operation automated.

Ross said, “Help me understand.  If there is a number there, and someone can be there in 10-15 minutes if they call the number … what’s wrong with that?”

Bean questioned whether it was 10-15 minutes as opposed to 20-30 minutes.  He cited the problems for people who need to get to work.  “There are so many options where a 30 minute delay would be detrimental to our citizens,” he said.  “The beach is our island’s prime asset and all I want for it is to be open on time.  An acceptable delay is no delay.  An automatic gate removes the human error possibility.”

Sturges asked Bean, “So if it costs $20-40,000 to get this automated gate, would you be willing to proceed with that number?”

Bean replied, “Well, that is quite a range.  If it’s $20,000, I would have no problem with that.  But if it is over and above … but my point is that we are arbitrarily throwing numbers out  there.  Let’s get a number.  If it’s a good number, we should go ahead, but obviously there are numbers we won’t spend.”

Parking at and on the beach

Following discussion of the gate, Mayor Mike Lednovich returned to the issue of beach parking.  He asked if there was any interest among commissioners in seeking an Attorney General’s Opinion on the City’s authority to expand beach parking.

City Attorney Tammi Bach

Ross asked City Attorney Tammi Bach to weigh in prior to commission discussion.  She recapped state legislation enacted in 1989 which allowed municipalities to keep the beach parking they had but not expand it.  The law also allowed jurisdictions to reduce existing beach parking with a three-fifths vote of their governing board, following a study.  Bach said, “I think the statute is clear, and an Attorney General’s Opinion will tell us just that.”

Sturges and Bean both expressed interest in expanding beach parking.  Ross and Kreger expressed opposition in light of an anticipated environmental study that could cause the City to reduce beach parking.  Lednovich concurred, adding that the issue will be revisited following the environmental study.

Lednovich redirected the issue to the impact of upcoming paid parking slated for the Nassau County beach at Peters Point.

Ross said that by bringing up the issue earlier in the discussion, he was not advocating for or against paid parking at City beaches.  He was suggesting that the County’s move would have an impact on City beach parking areas and that there is no more room for parking at City beaches.  He spoke about the population growth and robust tourism, suggesting that other plans need to be explored to provide for more visitors.  One suggestion was satellite parking areas.

“If our citizens cannot park at the beaches because of everyone else parking there, they are not going to be happy.  That’s all I’m saying,” Ross concluded.

Bean replied, “If the County does move forward with paid beach parking and their visitors head toward City beaches, I say, let the people come.  We’re ready, and I think the City has open arms.  I want to do right by our citizens and I can’t charge for parking,”

Lednovich wrapped up the discussion.  “The reality is that this is an island.  There is only so much land.  We have reached the tipping point on parking.  End of story.  We need to explore shuttle service, otherwise our citizens will be shut out.”

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